Life’s Lesson Brought To You Through Music

2011Symposium_1_2There’s a quote going around the internet that goes like this: “if you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new.” Implicit in this saying is the expectation that most people will not succeed at most things the first time they try. In order to succeed, skill and expertise will need to be developed through hard work, practice, and often help from others. There‘s another adage, “anything worth doing is worth doing well.” This prevents a person from making that first try and then giving up after little or no success. If you’re going to make the effort to try the first time, it’s worth your while to keep trying until you can do the thing well. Then of course there’s “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The use of the word “try” twice brings home the point that not only will success probably not come on the first try, it will probably not come on the second try either. It will take many repetitions, each with a slightly elevated skill level and awareness of what is needed, before a person will succeed. The positive way to avoid failure is to pursue success.

There is another way to avoid failure, but it leads to stagnation, not success. That is to avoid trying something new or challenging. People who only do things they know they can already do avoid failure, but never grow or improve, and they are constantly fearful of failure and on the lookout for what to avoid that might expose them as a failure. People employing this way will rarely admit that is what they are doing. Instead, they will call the activity stupid, say they just don’t feel like participating, or give other reasons why it is not worth their time and effort to do the activity. Many times, people offering these reasons, or I would call them excuses, are really just trying to avoid putting themselves in the position of trying to do something they are afraid they can’t do.

Where does this fear come from? It comes from making the cost of failure too high. It practicecomes from equating a person’s worth with what they can do. When this is done, a person comes to believe that if s/he can’t do something, then they are worthless. Educators dug themselves into a hole on this issue when for years they tried to build self-esteem by praising the slightest accomplishment and making it into a grand victory. But this proved to be a two-edged sword. If we were telling students they were wonderful when they achieved, we were also telling them they were horrible when they could not achieve. The truth is, life is not built on the bottom line; it is built on character, integrity, and hard work. Try until you can’t get any better, and celebrate the effort and the achievement. The character traits of perseverance and hard work will lead to results that are praiseworthy, and a self-image that is esteemed by oneself and others.

Now I must tell you where I learned all of this. I learned it through two years of struggling to succeed at playing the clarinet when I was 10 and 11 years old. In spite of poor results during this time, my mother’s “never quit” attitude and my innate love of music drove me through those two years of trying, often unhappily and unwillingly, until it all finally made sense and I became the professional clarinetist I am today. There is a life lesson to be taught through music that is desperately needed by many of the students we teach. A good life does not come cheaply, and does not come instantly. It comes with a cost paid in sweat and tears. But there are sweat rewards, particularly in music, for those who persevere, and the same lesson can be applied to all aspects of life.


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